“Our results lend scientific support to a frequent claim voiced by women, sometimes dismissed as paranoia: that people would have listened to her impassioned argument, had she been a man.” *
This finding enrages me to the point of screaming! Yet, if I were to express my displeasure by doing so, I would be dismissed as overly emotional, less competent, or less rational than a male colleague.
No, I’m not selling you the tired explanations about how society accepts expressions of anger from men while unfairly categorizing female displays of dominance as ‘bitchy’ behavior. Unfortunately, most women have experienced this specific bias firsthand.
Instead, I want to highlight the extent to which gender discrimination permeates every corner of modern society.
An Arizona State University study researched the potential factors that could affect jury deliberations and found that male jurors can successfully use anger to influence others, while women actually lose influence when they allow anger into an argument. If the outcome of a trial can be swayed by something as inconsequential as the sex of an angry juror, what does that say about the fairness of ‘unbiased’ juries?
ASU psychologist Jessica Salerno co-authored the study entitled “One angry woman: Anger expression increases influence for men, but decreases influence for women during group deliberation.”
“Our study suggests that women might not have the same opportunity for influence when they express anger,” Salerno said. “We found that when men expressed their opinion with anger, participants rated them as more credible, which made them less confident in their own opinion. But when women expressed identical arguments and anger, they were perceived as more emotional, which made participants more confident in their own opinion. Our results have implications for any woman who is trying to exert influence on a decision in their workplace and everyday lives, including governing bodies, task forces and committees.”
If you feel frustrated or downright enraged right now, I’m right there with you. Women express anger when we truly care about something, when we feel most passionate and convinced about a decision. These findings suggest that gender disparities are most likely to materialize when it comes to exerting influence in thousands of situations – at times trivially and at others vitally. Comparisons have been made to the Presidential debates this past year between Hillary Clinton and both Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump. The male candidates were able to freely to express passion and staunchly defend their convictions in the strongest and most aggressive terms, without the fear of waking up the next morning to accusations of instability or illegitimacy from the media. In order to appear persuasive and credible, the female candidate had to keep her emotions in check at all times, even when confronted by a red-faced Bernie or stalked around the stage by a furious Donald Trump.
But are women less prone to anger? The overwhelming majority of studies that examine aggression suggest that women become angry just as frequently and intensely as do men, and that both genders seek counseling for anger management in roughly equal numbers.
If men and women have an equal capacity of anger, why does society approve of one and not the other?
The key difference is the discrepancy in the expression of aggression, not the capacity for it in general. Similar studies found that men exhibit physical aggression, passive aggression, impulsivity, coercive tactics, and identified revenge as a motivator more frequently than their female peers. Women, more than men, were found to harbor grudges for extended periods of time, respond to aggression with resentment, and temper conspicuous expressions of anger. They also used problem-solving approaches in discussing the problem with the person they are angry with.
It’s more than frustrating that the findings in these studies only confirm what I’m sure many of you have learned or witnessed firsthand. Anger gets stereotyped as a typically masculine emotion, while public pushback from women comes off as unladylike or bitchy.
Society is a LONG way from the time when women can express anger and expect the same reception as their male colleagues. But we deserve to be heard, and we’re going to stand up and speak our minds whether they like it or not. We will not back down in the face of male disapproval or dismissal. Instead, we will speak truth to power, remain steadfast, and defend our right to a seat at the table. This misconception can be altered only if we refuse to adhere to its premise.
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*Jessica M. Salerno, Liana C. Peter-Hagene. One Angry Woman: Anger Expression Increases Influence for Men, but Decreases Influence for Women, During Group Deliberation.. Law and Human Behavior, 2015; DOI: 10.1037/lhb0000147
— Linda Smith (@meanestwoman) May 19, 2017